For Pope Francis, mercy isn’t just spiritual, but is something that ought to be expressed in concrete acts of service and in sharing one’s goods with the poor, which was a key tradition during Jubilee years throughout Scripture.
Referring to the current Holy Year of Mercy, the Pope explained that the Jubilee is a time “for conversion, so that our heart can become bigger, more generous, more like a child of God, with more love.”
“But I tell you that if the Jubilee doesn't arrive to the pockets, it's not a true Jubilee,” he said, adding that “this is in the Bible, it's not the Pope who invented this.”
Francis spoke to pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Church’s Lenten season.
In his continued catechesis on mercy as seen in Scripture, the Pope noted how the Jubilee year is an “ancient institution.”
He took his cue from the biblical passage in the book of Leviticus in which the Jubilee was instituted among the Jews. According to the rules of the Jubilee, the year served as a “kind of general amnesty” in which a person who had been forced to sell their goods or property could regain possession of them, he noted.
In that time, “requirements such as the Jubilee were used to combat poverty and inequality, guaranteeing a life of dignity for all and an equal distribution of the land on which to live and from which to draw sustenance,” the Pope observed.
Because the land originally belonged to God, who then entrusted it to man, no one could claim exclusive possession of it or use ownership to create situations of inequality, he said.
“With the Jubilee whoever had become poor returned to have what was necessary in order to live, and whoever had become rich restored to the poor what they had taken from them.”
The result “was a society based on equality and solidarity where freedom, land and money would become again a good for everyone,” Francis explained.
In off-the-cuff remarks, he noted that roughly 80 percent of the world’s wealth rests in the hands of about 20 percent of the people, and encouraged the faithful to be generous with what they have both during Lent, and the Jubilee.
“Each person can think in their hearts: if I have too many things, why not leave 10 percent, 50 percent, to those who have nothing?” he asked, assuring those present that if they take the matter to prayer, the Holy Spirit would inspire them about what is reasonable for them to do.
Francis then turned to the biblical law that required the payment of tithes, which would be used to assist the poor, people without land, orphans and widows.
He said that tithes such as this arrive daily to the Office of the Papal Almoner, which oversees the Pope’s charity funds.
When the letters come in, they frequently contain “a little bit of money: something small or not so small, which is part of a person's salary to help others,” the Pope said, explaining that “it’s beautiful” to help others, whether it be people, charitable institutions, hospitals, retirement homes or foreigners.
Pope Francis then issued a sharp condemnation of the practice of usury, and lamented how many families have been forced to live on the streets due to the corruption of those who want to line their own pockets.
“Usury is a grave sin before God,” he said, and noted that many times, people in desperation “end up committing suicide because they can't do it and they don't have hope.”
These people “don't have an outstretched hand to help them, only the hand that makes them pay for personal interests,” he said, and prayed that the Lord would use the Jubilee of Mercy as a time to remove the desire of usury from all hearts, making them bigger and more generous instead.
Francis pointed to God’s promise to bring blessings to those who lend a hand and who give generously, adding that when we are generous, the Lord “will give you double...maybe not in money, but the Lord always gives double.”
He closed his address by encouraging those present to have the courage to share what they have with others. This, he said, “is called mercy, and if we want the mercy of God, let's begin to do it ourselves.”